It is hard to believe, but college baseball is just around the corner. The season has its first pitch two weeks from tomorrow with the uniform start date, which was designed to level the playing field for “northern” schools like Purdue. It has somewhat worked, too. After years of the Big Ten being a 1-2 bid league in the NCAA Tournament the conference has suddenly been quite competitive on the national stage. Several times in recent years the league has gotten a record five teams in the field. This included last year when Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State all made it.
Once in the tournament, teams have had success, too. Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan have all hosted regionals in the past 10 years. Indiana broke the College World Series drought in 2013 by being the first Big Ten team to make it in 29 years. Then last year Michigan really broke through and made the CWS championship series before falling to Vanderbilt two games to one.
So the Big Ten is a very tough league, and in 2020 that should hold true once again. Michigan is a top 15 nationally in the preseason polls. Ohio State, Minnesota, and Indiana all received votes in the preseason coaches poll. D1baseball.com predicts the league will get five teams into the NCAAs again, but Purdue is picked to finish 12th out of 13 teams.
Thus begins the three-part season preview of the 2020 season. The Boilers have a new coach this year. Mark Wasikowski was hired away by Oregon after three seasons, and the somewhat controversial Greg Goff was promoted after two years as a volunteer assistant. I say somewhat controversial because he had quite the acrimonious departure from Alabama after serving there as coach for just one season.
Goff seems to coach a similar small-ball style to the departed Wasikowski, and since this is the second year after the 38-win NCAA season of 2018 there should be some recruiting dividends left over, too. Goff had successful stints at Campbell and Louisiana Tech, including a 49-10 season at Campbell in 2013.
For the first part of the preview let’s look at the pitching staff.
Bo Hofstra – Jr. – Hofstra has done a little bit of everything in his first two years at Purdue. The 6’5” right hander has mostly made a name for himself out of the bullpen. As a freshman in 2018 he made 28 appearances and had a 5-3 record with a save. Last season he was excellent out of the bullpen with a 1.62 ERA in 24 appearances, a 2-2 record, and seven saves. That was good enough for a Third Team all-Big Ten mention. Expect him to stay in the closer’s role this year.
Matt Moore – Jr. – Moore was another solid reliever that made 27 appearances out of the bullpen and he carried a 4.18 ERA and 5-0 record. In fact, he led the team in wins since Purdue was only 20-34 last season. Part of Purdue’s problem is that it did not have starters that went deep into games often, so it had to rely on its bullpen quite a bit. Moore is probably the top lefty on the staff.
Trent Johnson – Jr. – In 2018 Johnson became only the second pitcher in Purdue history to win an NCAA Tournament game. After having a 1.76 ERA and 3-1 record in nine starts in 2018 he tailed off a bit last year. He finished 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA and just five starts, but 22 appearances. He also added a save. Johnson was second on the team in innings pitched and will likely be one of the weekend starters.
Andrew Bohm – Jr. – Bohm led the team in innings pitched last season with 65 and in starts with 12. He was often roughed up, however. He finished with a 5.54 ERA and an 0-9 record, giving up 67 hits including 8 home runs. In 2018 Bohm made five starts and was 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA over 30 innings. He will need to be much better in 2020.
Kyle Wade – So. – Wade was another utility player that was all over the place last season. He started the home opener against Milwaukee as a true freshman, a first in program history. He ended up making 15 appearances and making a pair of starts, notching a 2-2 record with a 5.18 ERA over 40 innings. He will likely be a midweek starter again and middle reliever on weekends.
Conner Ayers – Fr. – The city of Lafayette has some really good high school baseball teams and getting the top guy from McCutcheon is a great pickup. Ayers is a 6’2” lefty that was 7-0 last year with a 1.57 ERA and the Lafayette Journal & Courier Big School Player of the Year. McCutcheon went on to win the North Central Conference and a pair of sectional games before falling to Logansport 9-8 in the sectional final. Even more astonishing, McCutcheon led that game 8-0 entering the sixth before giving up nine runs, dropping them to 22-6 on the year. Ayers was coached at McCutcheon by former Purdue coach Doug Schreiber, who is now the head coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Knolton Clark – Fr. – The 6’3” freshman from Santa Ana, CA defeinitely comes from fertile baseball recruiting grounds. He was an Orange County All-Star last season and had a 1.40 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 50 innings. During his HS career he also struck out Royce Lewis, who was the 2017 No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft and one of the top minor league prospects at the moment.
Reece Rodabaugh – Fr. – Rodabaugh comes from nearby Cass HS, where he had a 1.60 ERA in his career and was an all-state selection last season. He was a top 500 national recruit according to Perfect Game along with Clark and pitcher Jett Jackson.
Jett Jackson – Fr. – The 6’4” righthander also played first base in high school and was the No. 2 rated righthander in the state of Tennessee last year. He did NOT, however, have his own show on the Disney Channel.
Overall, there is a good mix of returning experience and talented newcomers, but the Boilers will need a lot better starting pitching to really compete in the conference. Simply put, the starters did not make it through many innings last year. That put a lot on Hofstra and Moore coming out of the bullpen. Having Hofstra waiting at the end if excellent, unless you’re already down 7-2 entering the ninth. Hofstra might be the best reliever in the conference, and if Purdue can get the game to him with a lead it is wonderful to have him coming in from the pen.
As a team Purdue was sixth in the Big Ten last year with a 4.41 ERA, but did not have a single complete game. If you’re looking for a weekend rotation I would expect Johnson and Bohm to be the top two options, but the third spot is up in the air. Purdue was pretty much in the middle of the conference pitching-wise, so with improved offense there is reason to believe there could be a big jump in the standings.
There are a few things that need to be cleaned up though. Purdue led the conference in wild pitches last season with 74 in 54 games.